Mill Valley Community Center

February 2024 was about as pugnacious a month as Mill Valley has had in quite a few years.

In the span of 26 days, the City of Mill Valley and the Mill Valley School District squared off in a feverish debate over the district’s stated intentions, with the district learning just recently that it owned Friends Field, which city officials have called “Mill Valley’s living room.”

A series of hearings were held, a wide range of organizations weighed in, with Friends of Fields submitting a demand for an emergency meeting of the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), which is responsible for monitoring the spending of Measure G bond funds by the Mill Valley School District. Each side dove deep into their respective historic records, hoping that the proverbial “sunlight is the best disinfectant” would provide an advantage.

At a hearing Tuesday evening at the Mill Valley Middle School, the community got its answer: MVSD was facing litigation exposure, and the district voted unanimously to step away from Friends Field as an option in the interests of avoiding that litigation and focusing on the best road forward for reconstructing a new middle school, with the wind at its back from the successful passage of Measure G and general obligation bonds from their June 2022, $194 million bond authorization. The $22.6 million issuance will be used to renovate, upgrade and modernize school facilities, as well as finance preliminary costs for the new middle school to be completed by 2027.

“If we need to concede what I feel is the better site, then we will need revenue from this site to make up for the additional expenses,” Trustee Michele Crncich Hodge said, indicating that the impact of possible litigation could erase the cost savings of between $6 million to $8 million in savings associated with using portable classrooms.”

The board asked Kaufman to predict the costs and delays associated with litigation. “I believe anywhere from between three and five years, depending on the situation,” she said.

We are not chaos demons, and we did not choose to create this firestorm – I want everyone to know that,” Board President Sharon Nakatani said. “We’re going to assume control of our property, and we expect collaboration from the City of Mill Valley on that.”

The hearing featured commentary from both sides of the debate. Longtime Mill Valley resident Bruce Dorfman said, “It’s a well known psychological fact that when you take something away people have, it will be a very public taking and people are going to notice.”

“I commend you all for this process and, Dr. Kaufman, I know this is not what you signed up for – you probably wish you didn’t know we owned that land,” said Liz Moriarty, chair of the Kiddo! Board of directors.

“We wish to extend our sincere gratitude to the Board of Trustees for carefully considering the matter, all of the options, and making a difficult decision under challenging circumstances,” Mayor Urban Carmel and City Manager Todd Cusimano said in a statement. “We appreciate our longstanding partnership with the District, demonstrated by several key milestones of our over 70-year collaboration for the entire community’s benefit. We emphasize that the use of Friends Field as a shared recreational resource is mandated by deed restrictions, voter actions, and decades of agreements. We encourage all community members to review the history to gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex issue. It is important to recognize that we all share a commitment to enhancing our community and supporting our children. Moving forward, we reaffirm our commitment to joint problem-solving with the District, a tradition of cooperation that has greatly benefited the community and made Mill Valley the beautiful and remarkable city that it is today.”

At the heart of the entire saga is the deep level of support for both organization, and in particular the 13-acre middle school that sits at 425 Sycamore Ave., just a few steps away from the Mill Valley Community Center, which has served as a platform for just about every manner of human activity you can think of, from myriad youth sports games spanning more than 2,500 registered participants to City-sponsored events, drawing in hundreds of families, including the Mill Valley Music Festival, which attracts more than 10,000 people across two days in May, as well as the KIDDO Memorial Day Carnival that sees thousands of participants over the Memorial Day weekend, as well as practices, weddings, graduations, summer camps, the fitness facility, swimming pool and much more. 

The history and significance of Friends Field are intertwined with the adjacent Community Center, which was constructed with a combination of public and private funds. It was built at a cost of $12.8 million in 1997 (equivalent to $25 million today), with $6 million ($11.7 million today) from community donations. Community members involved in the fundraising effort shared stories of hundreds of children who brought their piggy banks to contribute to this cherished community asset. 

District officials meet again on March 7. 




Want to know what’s happening around town? Click here to subscribe to the Enjoy Mill Valley Blog by Email!